Businesses carrying out an office clearance have received further encouragement to comply with regulations that prevent old computers and other waste electrical equipment being dumped in a skip.

Scientists at Edinburgh University claim to have developed a more effective method for extracting gold from printed circuit boards in old electrical items.

The most widely used method of removing gold from circuit boards uses toxic chemicals such as cyanide, which makes the process inefficient and hazardous to health.

However, researchers at the Scottish university have discovered a way of using a non-toxic compound that recovers gold.

The circuit boards are placed in a mild acid, which dissolves all metal parts. An oily liquid containing the new non-toxic compound is then added, which extracts gold selectively from the mixture of other metals.
The study estimates that circuit boards inside mobile phones, televisions and computers contain as much as 7% of all the world’s gold.

Improving how the precious metal is recovered from discarded electronic devices could help reduce the environmental impact of gold mining and cut carbon dioxide emissions, the research team says.

Professor Jason Love, of Edinburgh University’s School of Chemistry, adds: “We are very excited about this discovery, especially as we have shown that our fundamental chemical studies on the recovery of valuable metals from electronic waste could have potential economic and societal benefits.”

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University of Edinburgh

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